- California Healthline Original Stories 1
- California Hospital Giant Sutter Health Faces Heavy Backlash On Prices
- Public Health and Education 3
- California's STD Rates Have Spiked In What Experts Call A 'Failure Of The Public Health Safety Net'
- Melania Trump's Embolization Procedure Explained
- Do-It-Yourself Gene-Editing Revolution Poised To Go Catastrophically Wrong
- Around California 2
- Homeless Pregnant Women Should Be Priority When Considering Housing Resources, Researchers Say
- Board To Use Volkswagen's Millions To Try To Offset Damage Company's Dirty Cars Did To California
Latest From California Healthline:
In a case with possible national repercussions, the state’s attorney general has sued over alleged price gouging, and other legal and legislative challenges are afoot. Sutter is pushing back hard, denying anticompetitive behavior. (Chad Terhune, 5/15)
Sign up to get the daily edition in your inbox
More News From Across The State
The figure that caused the greatest alarm for researchers and administrators was 30 stillbirths resulting from congenital syphilis statewide — the highest number reported since 1995.
The Associated Press:
Report Finds Cases Of STDs Reach All-Time High In California
The number of cases of sexually transmitted diseases in California reached a record high last year and officials are particularly concerned by a spike in stillbirths due to congenital syphilis, state health authorities said Monday. More than 300,000 cases of chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis were reported in 2017, a 45 percent increase from five years ago, according to data released by the California Department of Public Health. (5/14)
First lady Melania Trump underwent the procedure and will remain in the hospital for the week. The purpose of an embolization is to cut off the blood supply to a lesion to cause it to shrink and ultimately die off.
Los Angeles Times:
Melania Trump Had An Embolization To Treat A Kidney Condition. What Is An Embolization?
The White House announced that First Lady Melania Trump underwent an embolization procedure Monday to treat a benign kidney condition. According to the statement, the treatment was a success. However, she is expected to remain at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center for the rest of the week. To find out what an embolization procedure entails and why it might be necessary, we spoke to Dr. Mark S. Litwin, professor and chairman of urology at UCLA. (Netburn, 5/14)
The most pressing worry is that someone could use the budding technology to create a bioweapon. But experts are also concerned about the safety of so-called biohackers with altered genes that they brewed at home.
The New York Times:
As D.I.Y. Gene Editing Gains Popularity, ‘Someone Is Going To Get Hurt’
As a teenager, Keoni Gandall already was operating a cutting-edge research laboratory in his bedroom in Huntington Beach, Calif. While his friends were buying video games, he acquired more than a dozen pieces of equipment — a transilluminator, a centrifuge, two thermocyclers — in pursuit of a hobby that once was the province of white-coated Ph.D.’s in institutional labs. “I just wanted to clone DNA using my automated lab robot and feasibly make full genomes at home,” he said. (Baumgaertner, 5/14)
And the ones who didn't, cut back on their prescription practices. The freebies most often came in the form of meals.
Los Angeles Times:
Did Drug Company Payments To Doctors Help Fuel The Opioid Epidemic?
A new research letter reports that doctors who received free meals and other kinds of payments from pharmaceutical companies tended to prescribe more opioid painkillers to their patients over the course of a year. Meanwhile, doctors who didn’t get such freebies cut back on their opioid prescriptions. (Kaplan, 5/14)
In other news on the crisis —
Is LA County's Lower Opioid Overdose Rate Related To Diversity?
More than 42,000 deaths were attributed to the painkillers in 2016, in both prescription and illegal forms. Los Angeles County has not gone unscathed. But the rate of deadly overdoses here is much lower than the national rate. ...Some experts say the region’s racial and ethnic diversity is likely a factor. (Faust, 5/15)
Compared to pregnant women who live in standard housing, homeless pregnant women in San Francisco experience more than double the rate of preterm birth.
The California Health Report:
UCSF Researchers: Homeless Pregnant Women Need Priority Housing Support
Researchers with the University of California, San Francisco, are calling on city and county officials to prioritize all homeless, pregnant women for shelter beds and transitional or subsidized housing. Homeless women in San Francisco must currently have a serious medical condition or wait until their third trimester before they’re considered “high risk” under city and county housing policy, according to a UCSF report. That’s too late to provide them with the stability they need for a healthy pregnancy, and to reduce their risk of preterm birth, researchers said. (Boyd-Barrett, 5/14)
Nailed by state and federal officials in 2015 for illegally selling thousands of highly polluting cars, the German automaker agreed to pour money into trying to make up for the damage it caused. But it will be a hard task. "It's not going to undo the damage that has been done to your lungs," said Will Barrett, a senior policy analyst with the American Lung Association's California chapter. "The pollution's out there; it's been emitted."
California Air Resources Board Looks To Spend Volkswagen Pollution Money
The California Air Resources Board is finalizing a plan to spend $423 million of Volkswagen's money on financial incentives to persuade trucking companies, mass-transit agencies, tugboat operators and other major polluters to upgrade their fleets and buy greener vehicles. The idea is to eventually take as much pollution out of California's air as Volkswagen's dirty cars put in — especially the heavy volume of smog-forming nitrogen oxide, or NOx, caused by the VW vehicles. (Kasler, 5/14)
In other news —
San Francisco Chronicle:
In Hunters Point Shipyard Cleanup Scandal, Supes Push For Redoing Botched Test
San Francisco supervisors Monday pressed the Navy to retest the entire Hunters Point Shipyard, including a portion already dotted with new condos, during the first public hearing into the widening scandal of the botched $1 billion cleanup at the Superfund site. For weeks, the supervisors had eagerly awaited an opportunity to question Tetra Tech, the environmental engineering company responsible for ridding the site of nuclear residue and other toxic materials. (Dineen, 5/14)
HHS Secretary Alex Azar blasted a long-standing Democratic idea for Medicare to negotiate drug prices, saying it would deny access to medicines "through rationing or setting prices," which he called a "move toward socialized medicine." However, Azar did promise to upend Medicare Part B's payment structure.
The New York Times:
Trump Administration Defends Plan To Lower Prescription Drug Prices
The Trump administration hit back on Monday against critics of President Trump’s plan to reduce prescription drug prices, saying his ideas would be far more effective than remedies championed by Democrats. Democrats have long supported two proposals that Mr. Trump endorsed during the 2016 presidential campaign. The government, they say, should directly negotiate with drug manufacturers to obtain lower prices for Medicare beneficiaries. And consumers, they say, should be allowed to import pills from Canada and certain other developed countries where brand-name drugs often cost less. (Pear, 5/14)
Azar Suggests Trump Will Call Out Drug Companies Behind Major Price Hikes
Days after President Trump delivered a speech on prescription drug prices that was notably light on criticism of the pharmaceutical industry, his health secretary on Monday struck a far more aggressive tone, warning that the administration would be “turning on the pressure” on drug makers. The American public, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said, deserves to know which companies are “gouging consumers.” (Facher, 5/14)
No Medicare Drugs Negotiations, But Co-Payments Could Increase
Federal health officials Monday targeted drug makers and companies that negotiate drug benefits as they provided more details to back up President Trump's plan to lower drug prices. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar bristled Monday at criticism that the plan Trump announced Friday does not go far enough. He said the plan has more teeth than critics claimed. But some consumer advocates weren't convinced. (O'Donnell, 5/14)
U.S. To Consider Expanding Medicare Drug Price Negotiation
Azar, a former pharmaceutical company executive, said Trump views tougher negotiation as key to the plan. Azar said his agency will consider an alternative system for buying Medicare Part B drugs, which are administered by a healthcare provider and covered directly by the government, such as many cancer treatments and infused biotech drugs. The administration would seek to allow private payers to negotiate the price of those medicines, as health insurers and PBMs already do in Medicare Part D, which covers drugs patients get at the pharmacy. (Abutaleb, 5/14)
The Wall Street Journal:
Health-Agency Chiefs Defend Trump’s Plan To Lower Drug Prices
Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, in remarks delivered in Washington, backed the president’s decision not to allow for the importation of American-made drugs from other countries such as Canada, a move Mr. Trump previously had suggested he favored. Mr. Azar said there is no way to ensure such drugs are really from Canada or Europe, rather than routed from a counterfeit factory in China or elsewhere. “Canada doesn’t have enough drugs to sell them…for less money,” he said. (Armour and Burton, 5/14)
The Washington Post:
Trump’s Big Campaign Promise On Drug Prices Wouldn’t Have Worked, Health And Human Services Secretary Says
[Azar] added that there are widespread misperceptions about the effects of direct government negotiation on drug prices, which, he said, would achieve minimal savings — unless the government were willing to deny access to certain medicines or set drug prices. “This is a topic the President and I have discussed at great length, and the idea of direct negotiation in Medicare has come up. He is tired of the government getting bad deals on the drugs seniors need, and I couldn’t agree more,” Azar said, in a speech before the briefing at Health and Human Services headquarters. “We formulated this plan with fixing that problem as the number one priority, and the President is following through on his promise.” (Johnson, 5/14)
HHS Secretary Azar Wields Pen Against Drug Prices
Here are three of the big ideas Azar laid out Monday, three days after President Trump unveiled a blueprint to lower the cost of prescription drugs that was criticized for being light on substance. (Kodjak, 5/14)
Trump Attacked ‘Drug Lobby' Before Lawmakers Well Funded By Pharma
There were moments during President Trump’s address on prescription drug prices on Friday that had Republican lawmakers in attendance bursting into applause and even rising from their seats. The president’s jab at the pharmaceutical lobby, however, was not one of them. Many of the lawmakers who were present are in fact at the center of the pharmaceutical industry’s efforts to lobby Congress. Those invited by the White House included Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), a longtime industry ally who chairs the Senate Finance Committee, which oversees Medicare. (Facher, 5/15)
Biotech Stocks Open Higher Monday On 'Trump Bump'
Health care stocks are trading higher Monday following President Trump’s drug pricing speech on Friday afternoon. Call it a relief rally. Or, the Trump bump. The snap judgment from Wall Street is that Trump’s proposals to rein in drug prices will have a limited impact on biotech and pharmaceuticals companies. But will this be the D.C. “clearing event” that sparks a deeper and sustainable rally in biotech and drug stocks? (Feuerstein, 5/14)
Meanwhile, the Democrats are unifying behind a strategy that capitalizes on the health law's rising popularity and points fingers at the Republicans for high premiums.
Democrats Ready To Run On Health Care In 2018
Democrats are confidently running on Obamacare for the first time in a decade. They’ve got a unified message blaming Republicans for “sabotaging” the health law, leading to a cascade of sky-high insurance premiums that will come just before the November midterm elections. They’re rolling out ads featuring people helped by the law. And Tuesday, they’re starting a campaign to amplify each state’s premium increases — and tie those to GOP decisions. (Haberkorn, 5/15)
In other national health care news —
Dems Warn Against Changes To Federal Family Planning Program
More than 200 Democratic lawmakers from the House and Senate are warning the Trump administration against making changes to a federal family planning program for low-income Americans. Anti-abortion groups and Republicans have urged the administration to bring back Reagan-era regulations that banned organizations receiving Title X funding from promoting or referring patients for abortions. It would also require funding recipients have a physical and financial separation from abortion facilities. (Hellmann, 5/15)
Trump To Keynote Anti-Abortion Gala Next Week
President Trump will speak at a campaign event next week held by a national anti-abortion group. The Susan B. Anthony List announced Monday that Trump will keynote its 11th annual "Campaign for Life" gala on May 22. ...Anti-abortion groups have cheered the Trump administration for taking many actions targeting abortion, including his reinstatement of the so-called Mexico City policy, which prohibits federal funds from going to international organizations that discuss, provide or offer referrals for abortion services. (Hellmann, 5/14)
U.S. Joins Whistleblower Case Against Insys Over Kickbacks
The U.S. Department of Justice has joined whistleblower litigation accusing Insys Therapeutics Inc of trying to generate more profit by paying kickbacks to doctors to prescribe powerful opioid medications. The government's involvement was disclosed in a filing made public on Monday. It adds firepower to the civil litigation as Insys tries to resolve a federal probe into its marketing of Subsys, a spray form of fentanyl. (Raymond, 5/14)
The Washington Post:
Fertility Doctor John Zhang Pushes Boundaries In Human Reproduction
When future historians look back on the 21st century, one of the most iconic photos may be of a smiling, dark-haired man in blue scrubs protectively holding a newborn — the world’s first commercially produced “three-parent” baby. This is John Zhang, the Chinese-born, British-educated founder and medical director of a Manhattan fertility center that is blowing up the way humans reproduce. In 2009, Zhang helped a 49-year-old patient become the world’s oldest known woman to carry her own child. In the not-too-distant future, he says, 60-year-old women will be able to do the same. (Cha, 5/14)
The Washington Post:
Among Thousands Of LGBTQ Teens, A Survey Finds Anxiety And Fears About Safety
A new survey finds significant anxiety and fear among teenagers who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer. The survey findings, released Tuesday, are based on the answers of roughly 12,000 youth ages 13 to 17 who responded to an online solicitation by the Human Rights Campaign Foundation and other advocacy groups. Researchers say they reveal the depth of challenges that LGBTQ teens face. At home, at school, in social circles and communities, these teens are experiencing high levels of anxiety, feelings of rejection and fears for their safety, according to a report on the survey findings. (Nutt, 5/15)
The Wall Street Journal:
Collagen, A Wrinkle-Cream Staple, Catches On In Foods
The stuff in beauty creams is appearing in foods, as companies launch pricey snacks and drinks containing collagen—and many consumers are eating it up despite little hard evidence that it works. Valerie Grogan, a 53-year-old teacher’s aide in Torrance, Calif., three years ago began making a collagen-rich bone broth in her crockpot every week, hoping it would help soothe aches and smooth her skin. Recently, she discovered a vanilla-coconut collagen powder, which she mixes into coffee and smoothies. (Chaker, 5/14)